In the Shadow of the Pyramids
February 6, 2009
AERA’s Giza Lab officially opened for the season on Sunday, February 1st, 2009. It’s a funny place, doesn’t look like much from the outside – a low, one story brick-and-cement bunker painted a yellowish dung color – a building of little consequence nestled amongst Giza’s imposing pyramids.
When the rusty metal door opens with its loud clang, however, a different impression emerges as one’s eyes adjust to the light, and especially as one descends into the heart of the lab. Much larger than imagined and everywhere, boxes! These, stacked high on floor to ceiling shelves, are all labeled with the details of their contents and of their origin.
These six rooms of detail contain the narrative of the nearby settlement of the Giza pyramid builders, the traces left behind by the inhabitants of this Lost City. Our large and diverse lab team hails from 12 nations and it’s our job to recover stories from the pottery, objects, human bone, animal bone, plants, mud sealings, chipped stone tools, pigments, plaster, wood charcoal, roofing material, mud brick.
There is much to do before the lab crew begins to arrive this week and, as ever, our Egyptian inspector and my team of local workmen are on the job.
Ahmed Ezz, our SCA inspector, has been with us since 1999 and his hard work and good humor are intrinsic to the successful running of the lab.
Mohammed Hassan, on board since 1998, offers a quiet and efficient strength to the ensemble.
My main workman on the settlement itself, Abd el-Latif, has assisted me there and in the lab with my own specialty, the study of ancient plants, since 2001.
So on Sunday when we opened the door, we knew what we had to do. The first task is to clear the sand and dust accumulated since the close of the lab the previous season (May 31st, 2008). Then we set up the individual stations for each specialist – a table, a chair, and a working lamp, extension cord and voltage regulator as basics.
The next job is to supply each specialist with the tools they need to get on with their job – from pencils, pens, rulers and notebooks to simple equipment to analyze soil, stone, the size of inclusions in pottery, etc.
Five workmen from the main site have arrived today to help set up two large tents with enough room for both the lab crew and the Field School students who will be in the lab studying various specialist subjects. Another shelter has also been constructed to shade the workers from the sun and the often harsh winds of the spring khamseen (the hot, dust-filled winds from the Sahara) while they sort and record pottery and other classes of material culture.
So far, so good – everything is now in place for the 2009 Giza lab season to begin – bring it on!